Tuesday, January 2, 2018

THE POST (2017), the Press, and The Other Movie with Press-Freedom Issues

I'll start with, as we used to say, "Where I'm coming from."
  • On at least two and possibly up to four or more occasions I've sworn "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," which for me starts with defense of the Bill of Rights. The people administering the oath weren't very serious about it, but I take my word seriously. 
  • I'm a life-member of the ACLU and have depending upon the First Amendment to undergird (my) academic freedom. 
  • Some of my best friends and students have been journalists and/or teachers of journalism, and I worked with reporters off and on between my first semester in high school and my retirement. 
I haven't yet seen THE POST (nor seen it advertised as playing in my area), but I have seen The Other Movie with Press-Freedom Issues that's out there now: ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, on the kidnapping of John Paul Getty's grandson.

THE POST (2017) is something of a prequel to ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976) and another celebration of the importance of journalism media for popular government ("of/by/and for the people") that was President Lincoln's ideal. ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD gives us glimpses of popular media in another sense, most strikingly as paparazzi, in their purest form in 1970s Italy.
And I — the guy in that opening 'graph — caught myself at points in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD hoping that someone in those neat Italian sports cars, or a heavier vehicle, would run over a paparazzo or two.
I supported the ACLU when they defended the speech-rights of George Lincoln Rockwell and his American Nazi Party to speak, and the rights of other neo-Nazis to parade through Skokie, Illinois — not far from where I grew up — in full regalia. And I declined to precipitate a riot when other neo-Nazis paraded in downtown Chicago near a very large, largely Jewish, teen dance at which I briefly spoke. For a Jew who's studied the Hitlerian Holocaust, these were much tougher calls than respecting the rights of paparazzi not to be run over.

But there's something about paparazzi and more important media in their "nightcrawler" mode when they are in the figurative and literal faces of people in pain. There's something about that kind of pornography of suffering that, clearly, really pisses me off.

Obviously, there are audiences for wall-to-wall disaster coverage and asking some Mr. Macduff what it felt like to learn his entire extended family had been massacred, and other wallowing in the pain of others that would get an upload thrown off a respectable S&M website for violating community standards of decency. Still: not every audience desire should be fulfilled, not even if there's enough money in that variety of prostitution to save one's media outlet as a viable business. 
So let us defend freedom of the press — but ask, quietly, for some internal pressures in the media from members of the media to keep themselves defensible.

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